Robert Soloway is a convicted e-mail spammer. By his own admission, he’s sent so many spam, or junk, emails to Americans he lost count long ago.
"I would say it's over 10 trillion, most likely, from my home computer that I bought for $1,200 at Office Depot,” Soloway told NBC News in a recent interview at his home in Seattle. “So it's very easy. It really is easy to reach a massive amount of people."
Soloway said he knew he was filling computer in-boxes with unwanted ads and solicitations and annoying millions of people. But he didn’t really care. "I don’t have time to sit here and listen to you complain about getting e-mails. 'Delete it!' That was kind of my response,” Soloway said.
For Soloway, spamming was easy and lucrative. “I made it, $20,000 a day. And I spent $20,000 a day,” he boasted.
He was a millionaire by 18, took extravagant trips to Las Vegas, owned homes in the Northwest and — at his peak —- had seven luxury cars filling his driveway.
His scheme? He sent millions of spam messages to computer users encouraging them to send spam messages, too. For just $149, Soloway’s pitches boasted, buy a simple software product from me and you’ll be able to quickly send out millions of messages too, and sell your own products.
“I wasn’t just selling Viagra pills. I was selling something to help other people sell their Viagra pills,” Soloway said.
Federal law-enforcement officials weren’t amused. After a lengthy investigation, they arrested him, and prosecutors dubbed him the “King of Spam” at a press conference.
Soloway pleaded guilty to mass spamming, a federal crime since 2004, and to forging his identity in millions of e-mail solicitations. He also admitted to defrauding customers who bought his software products online.
When the Feds arrested him at his Seattle penthouse apartment, they seized bank accounts and some of his ill-gotten gains: 27 pairs of designer shoes, Armani and Prada jackets, even two dozen pairs of expensive sunglasses.
“Pure greed,” Soloway now says of himself. “It's the American story of simply letting money get to someone who doesn't know how to handle it."
He vows to never spam again, and has plenty of time to ponder a new career. A federal judge sentenced Soloway to nearly four years in federal prison for fraud and criminal spamming, and ordered him to repay more than $700,000. His prison terms starts any day now.